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The Tim Burton exhibition at TIFF Bell Lightbox looks exactly like you'd expect a Tim Burton exhibition to look. It's squiggles and stripes all the way down.
Burton's movies have a distinctive stylistic continuity; there's always something with a curlicue, or a prop that recalls an Edward Gorey sketch, or someone with a big head and a tiny body. (That's usually Johnny Depp.) Burton really only has the one thing - the collision between fanciful Edwardian carnival motifs and dour German Expressionism - but when he's in his groove, the results can be spectacular.
The exhibition, opening Friday, is only one element of TIFF's Burton celebration. The Lightbox is running Burton-?themed weekend workshops for kids (and parents) to the end of the year. A limited run of Edward Scissorhands opens December 2. And then there's the Burton Blitz, which will screen all of his features in chronological order from 6:30 pm Friday to about 10 am Sunday (November 28). Check Friday's web column at NOW Daily for a more detailed look at that.
It's the exhibition that's the star attraction, of course. Originally curated for the Museum of Modern Art in New York, with a focus on Burton's drawings, paintings and animation work, it's been reworked for its Lightbox run to bring Burton's filmography to the fore.
That reworking hasn't been executed as well as I'd hoped. The depth of inquiry rises and falls like a tide as the show moves in roughly chronological order through Burton's movies. Pee-?wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Scissorhands and Mars Attacks! get lavish displays of production artwork, costumes, sketches and props, while other studio projects like Sleepy Hollow, the disastrous Planet Of The Apes remake and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory are shrugged off with a couple of items apiece.
Okay, those aren't his most popular pictures, but why is there more material on display from projects Burton merely oversaw, like Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, James And The Giant Peach and Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, than from his openly personal films like Ed Wood and Big Fish? (And while I'm asking questions, how does Henry Selick feel about being omitted from any discussion of The Nightmare Before Christmas when he actually directed the movie?)
Fortunately, the exhibition's shortcomings can be rectified by screenings of the movies themselves.
Pee-?wee's Big Adventure is one of the best children's movies ever made. Beetlejuice is the closest anyone's ever come to a perfect anarchic comedy. It moves like a runaway train, and the relationship that develops between Winona Ryder's "strange and unusual" Lydia Deetz and the frustrated ghosts played by Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin gives it a rich emotional foundation.
Batman and Batman Returns straddle the line between the camp attitude of the franchise's Adam West days and the psychological realism of Christopher Nolan's reboots. Mars Attacks! is a demented funhouse ride through the 1950s sci-?fi cheapies Burton devoured as a child. And Ed Wood salutes the people who made those cheapies - even when their efforts resulted in some of the worst cinema America has ever seen.
Then there's Edward Scissorhands. Burton's first collaboration with fellow traveller Depp remains the director's most personal and profoundly touching work - the one movie where absolutely every element works all the way through to the end.
TIFF is screening Burton's features to the end of December, pairing each with a film that influenced or inspired him.
Scissorhands is matched with Delbert Mann's Marty, another story of misfits looking for love (Monday, November 29). Other double bills include Batman Returns preceded by Roman Polanski's Repulsion (December 3 and 4), and Mars Attacks! is paired with Ishiro Honda's Gojira (December 10 and 11).
On December 12, Ed Wood is accompanied by Edward D. Wood Jr.'s Bride Of The Monster. That program alone is reason to mount the exhibition - even if all it gives us of Ed Wood are some prop doors and one sad little angora sweater.